Relocation Reads

The staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library met yesterday to discuss books with the theme of relocation. As usual, the choices were diverse and fascinating.

best-of-covered-wagon-women1Gail got us started with The Best of Covered Wagon Women. Edited by Kenneth L.  Holmes, this is a selection of the best pioneer women’s narratives–letter and diaries–from a previously published 11-volume set. The accounts of the hardships they faced with stoicism and grit may be somewhat astonishing to contemporary readers. Documenting everything from childbirth on the trail, malnutrition, wild rivers, horrible accidents, Indian encounters, and day after day of monotonous walking, these eight narratives make for fascinating reading.beat-the-reaper

Normally a book written in such a high-octane style, a book this shock-driven, would turn me off, but Josh Bazell’s debut thriller Beat the Reaper shows the writing skill to back up an aggressive style. It’s the story of Pietro Brnwa, who becomes a mafia hit man to avenge the murder of his grandparents, but later turns against his mob handlers. He enters witness relocation and emerges as a doctor in a tough Manhattan hospital. He tries to exorcise past guilt by completing exhausting rounds while fired up on an ever-changing cocktail of prescription meds, but his past catches up with him when he discovers that a patient is a former mafioso comrade, registered under an assumed name. With unusual action sequences, shocking descriptions, and original and energetic language, Bazell certainly gets the reader’s attention. A doctor himself, he constantly throws in surprising facts about medicine and other subjects. Some readers may find this work crass, over the top, or sexed up, and I have to wonder how Bazell can sustain any tin-ticketbelievability if this becomes a series, but for the course of Beat the Reaper, I was just enthralled.

Amy read an advance copy of a forthcoming nonfiction work, The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women. The book traces the lives of poor women, particularly Irish women, who were convicted of petty crimes and sentenced to transportation to Australia. While for many life in Australia would ultimately prove preferable to 19th-century prisons, they had to leave behind family, make a harrowing crossing, then tolerate servitude and discrimination before they could create their new lives. By Deborah J. Swiss, The Tin Ticket is due out in early October.they-saw-the-elephant

Cheryl selected two works of nonfiction. Her favorite was They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by Jo Ann Levy. Cataloguing trips overland, across the isthmus of Panama by mule, or around the horn of South America on steamships, the book then describes the roles that different women took when they reached the gold fields–mining, working as prostitutes, hills-is-lonelydriving stagecoaches, running boarding houses and laundries, teaching school, and more.

Also of note was Lillian Beckwith’s The Hills is Lonely, the first of seven books about her relocation to the austere conditions of Scotland’s Hebrides Islands in the 1960s. Beckwith’s description of the locals contains equal parts of bizarreness and and growing fondness and respect. She details a lifestyle that is quiet but eccentric, quaintly cantankerous, and often very funny.whiter-than-snow

Barbara had Sandra Dallas’s latest Whiter than Snow. It’s a historical novel told from the perspective of many people who have relocated to Swandyke, Colorado in the early 1920s. The mining town is a tough place, especially for outsiders, but they have to come together when an avalanche traps several children in a snow drift. While noting that she didn’t lturtle-in-paradiseike it as much as Dallas’s earlier works like The Persian Pickle Club, Barbara still enjoyed the melodrama of this new novel.

Finally, Susan chose Turtle in Paradise, a children’s novel about a Depression-era girl whose mother must send her away to live with relatives when she gets a housekeeping job. The relocation sends her from New Jersey to Key West, Florida. Suddenly surrounded by boisterous cousins and friends, Turtle has a mixture of adventures among the islands unusual inhabitants, culminating in a search for buried treasure. It’s a lively book that children and adults can both enjoy.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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